Buenos Aires – This piece went up this morning over on What’s Up Buenos Aires? and is merely reproduced here with one spelling correction in the title.
It's a shame that the words offal and awful are virtual homonyms in the English language. It immediately gives some leverage to the folks who fall into the camp of "I wouldn't touch a plate of that with your tongue if I was paid to do it". Versus, of course, the camp that others fall into where the mere mention of one of these body parts is enough to cause Pavlovian salivation. Even in the Argentine culture (and the Italian culture from which many of their recipes derive) opinion, no, vehemence pro or con in regard to the "fifth quarter" as the Romans called it, abounds.
Most everyone has tried something like liver – whether calf, beef, duck, or chicken – in one guise or another. On the chicken front, gizzards and hearts are common enough; perhaps even a chicken foot or two. When it comes to other animals and other organs, there are certainly things like steak and kidney pie out there, but here comes the moment when the two camps divide and begin to wage war. "If I only had a heart… a brain… the nerve…" takes on a whole new meaning from its connotations in the land of Oz. Here, we want them seasoned, grilled, sauced, and served.
For those of us in the pro camp, variety meats are not just the spice of life, they are the pinnacle of its culinary possibilities. For those who have yet to try them, or are unfamiliar with what is available, this basic guide, more or less from one entrail to the other.
Chinchulines are the small intestines
Chotos are a strangely braided larger part of the small intestine
Corazon is the heart
Criadillas are testicles, or if it makes you feel better, prairie or Rocky Mountain oysters
Higado is your already probably familiar liver
Mollejas de corazon are sweetbreads from the lower regions, the pancreas
Mollejas de cuello are sweetbreads from the neck, or, the thymus glands
Mondongo is tripe
Pulmones are lungs
Riñones are kidneys
Seso is the brain
Tripa is the stomach or intestine (not tripe as might be expected)
Ubres are the udders
In the world of entertainment I have just finished watching the entire former BBC series (1993 – 1996), Chef!, starring comedian Lenny Henry (I’m on a bit of a BBC comedy kick right now, just prior to this I watched through the entire Fawlty Tower series, which I find to be at best, vaguely funny in slapstick fashion). It’s quite funny, especially the first season, in fact it’s one of my favorite food related shows of all time. The cast was small, worked well together, and the whole thing was pulled off with aplomb. In the second season, several of the characters were abruptly changed, with no explanation – a couple disappeared, and a new cast of kitchen staff was present. Still, it came together nicely, though began to lose a little coherence, mostly because there were now one or two too many people in play. In the third season characters changed again, including one of the principal characters suddenly being played by a different actor, the ownership of the restaurant changed without explanation, and the focus shifted virtually completely out of the kitchen and restaurant world, both of which became backdrops for a rather boring saga of life and love that lost any sense of a comic edge, and ultimately dissolved into a sodden pile of kitchen waste. Not surprisingly, the show didn’t have a fourth season. Still, overall, the show is worth watching, especially the first season.
My friend Brian, who is British, found the characters to be too caricatured and too unlikable, and also seemed to feel that it was unlikely any top quality British chef would behave in such a manner, comedy show or not. He clearly hasn’t worked with some of the chefs I’ve worked with over the years; and, I have to say, I didn’t find the characters unlikable, even the abrasive top dog himself.
The show is out on DVD, though I’m betting most rental venues don’t offer it. Whether or not it’s worth buying is more dependent on your personal tastes. There are a couple of clips from the show on the BBC site linked above. It’s also available for download as a three separate seasonal torrents, but, of course, you didn’t hear that from me.
I had been offered a spot on the tasting panel for the next edition (2007) of Viñas, Bodegas & Vinos de América del Sur, the annual guide to South American wines and wineries. The tastings started earlier this week and involve a little over two hours a day sitting, swirling, sipping, spitting, and scoring 20+ wines per day, followed by lively discussion of the merits of each. The tastings are “blind” in that all we know is the country of origin, the grape variety or blend, and the vintage, both before and after tasting them. (All I can tell you is that I’ve tasted through 85 Argentine wines in four days – 16 sparkling wines, 15 white wines, and 54 red wines – ranging throughout the varietals grown here.)
What has been most interesting for me is the clear difference in palates amongst the various people involved. While I’ve been involved in tasting panels before, generally we just submit our individual results and someone later on tallies things up and figures out scores and what to say about them. Here, we contrast, compare, and argue over the merits or faults of each wine, so the personal preferences of the individual tasters becomes evident very rapidly. That’s one of the reasons for a panel tasting rather than, as a few of the top wine guides out there offer, a single point of view. I’m not fond of the 100-point scoring scale, but it’s what’s being used. I’ve so far scored only one wine above 90, and no one else agreed with me. I’ve scored maybe 8 other wines in the low to mid 80s. Most of the rest fell in the 70s and 2 fell into the 60s. In general, I’d say I tend to rate the wines harder than the Argentine tasters, who seem more ready to accept certain flaws as “just the way wine is made here.”
No matter what anyone says, wine quality IS subjective. Even amongst professionals.